A church in turmoil at San Francisco Playhouse

Antony Fusco, as Pastor Paul, leads a service

Never discuss politics or religion with friends, they say – but if Lucas Hnath’s play, The Christians, is anything to go by, you should avoid discussing the fundamentals of religion in church as well, particularly beliefs and how they’re interpreted!

You have to hand it to Playhouse Directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, they’re not shy about tackling what could be construed as a bit of a thorny topic – and The Christians most definitely falls into that category.

Pastor Paul (an admirably authentic portrayal by Anthony Fusco) is head of a burgeoning church which, over 10 years, has grown from modest beginnings to a place of worship for thousands of believers. As the play opens, he has decided to throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons by delivering a sermon which questions the very foundation of what most Christians believe about their faith.

Pastor Paul (Anthony Fusco) challenges Associate Pastor Joshua (Lance Gardner) to substantiate his claims from the Bible

The young Associate Pastor, Joshua (in a fine performance by Lance Gardner), is quick to take issue with Pastor Paul over his audacity at even raising the question, much less the alternate interpretation on offer – and the inevitable fissure which has been opened threatens to become wider and more destructive as their dispute continues.

Church Elder Jay (Warren David Keith) tries to rationalize the situation with Pastor Paul (Anthony Fusco)

Jay, one of the church Elders, in a dignified and measured performance by Warren David Keith, takes Pastor Paul aside for a quiet heart-to-heart, in an attempt to smooth things over, but the situation reaches boiling point when one of the choristers steps up to the lectern to give a testimony, and in so doing raises an even more pertinent question about Pastor Paul’s character. Millie Brooks is splendid as Jenny, an (initially) engaging young single mother who becomes ever more impassioned as she gets to the heart of her denunciation.

A congregant, Jenny (Millie Brooks) delivers her testimony

Stephanie Prentice gives a beautifully controlled performance as Elizabeth, Pastor Paul’s adoring wife, who inevitably becomes drawn into the emotional maelstrom of the tumultuous proceedings.

Stephanie Prentice is Elizabeth, the pastor’s adoring wife

Bill English is to be commended for his taut direction which keeps the audience spellbound as this catastrophe unfolds, and the voices of the volunteer members of the First Unitarian Church Choir add a lovely touch of authenticity to the production.

The Christians runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until March 11th. For more information, and for tickets, visit the SF Playhouse website.


All photographs © Jessica Palopoli


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San Francisco Ballet toasts a trio of Modern Masters

Lauren Strongin and Joseph Walsh in Ratmansky’s ‘Seven Sonatas © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s second program of the new season is every bit as diverse as the first. Another triple bill, it features two works which were seen in the 2016 season – Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas and William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. Completing the triptych is Optimistic Tragedy, a world premiere by Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky’s ‘Seven Sonatas’ © Erik Tomasson

Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas is a truly beautiful study in classical elegance, created in 2009 for American Ballet Theatre, where Ratmansky was a relatively new Artist in Residence following his arrival from the Bolshoi.  Set to seven of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 Keyboard Sonatas, the ballet – delicately costumed in white – centers on the relationships between a group of six friends, showing the interplay between members of the group as a whole, the camaraderie between the men, the empathy between the women, and the characteristics that define the relationships of each couple. One pair is going through a time of conflict, another is bound together by fun and playfulness, and the third couple is buoyed up by the sheer joy and humor which they share.

For Principal Dancer Frances Chung, Seven Sonatas is particularly special because  “there are only a few of us onstage, and the choreography lends itself to the dancers really connecting with each other and with the pianist who is also onstage”.  Ratmansky’s choreography, she says, “is based on classical ballet, yet very human and more grounded.  There’s never a specific story, but I like that because it leaves it up to your interpretation as a dancer and for audience members”.

Lorena Feijoo and members of San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘Optimistic Tragedy’ © Erik Tomasson


San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘Optimistic Tragedy’ © Erik Tomasson

Yuri Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy was inspired by Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s 1933 play, set in Russia after the 1917 Revolution and during the Russian Civil War, with some scenes taking place on a Red Navy ship on the Baltic Sea.

Taking further inspiration from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin, Possokhov has used both these storylines as a basis to create a dramatic and intense ballet, involving the captain of a naval vessel, his divided crew of communists and anarchists, and a new female commissar whose presence causes further friction on board the ship.

Possokhov commissioned the score for his ballet from multi award-winning Russian composer, performer and conductor, Ilya Demutsky, with whom he has previously collaborated on a ballet for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow. That ballet, A Hero of Our Time, won the Golden Mask Russian National Theatre Award for Best Ballet Production for 2015/16, as well as the award for Best Composer in Musical Theatre. It will be screened live from Moscow in cinemas worldwide on April 9.

San Francisco Ballet in Forsythe’s ‘Pas/Parts’ © Erik Tomasson


Joseph Walsh and Julia Rowe in Forsythe’s ‘Pas/Parts’ © Erik Tomasson

William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts was another success story of the 2016 season. A display of stunning virtuosity, it’s powerful, dynamic and riveting. The ballet was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, but Forsythe re-choreographed parts of it to suit the style of the dancers of San Francisco Ballet, producing a work that very much belongs to the Company.

The score is by Dutch composer Thom Willems, who has collaborated with Forsythe on at least 25 ballets – and although it doesn’t fall into the category of relaxed listening, it elicits exactly the kind of response from the dancers that Forsythe’s challenging choreography requires.

Pas/Parts has no elaborate costumes – just a variation on practice clothes – and is performed on a stage bare of sets, but with a backdrop of fascinating lighting effects. The choreography and its execution are all that are needed to produce a work which was greeted last season with standing ovations.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Martin West, presents Modern Masters at the War Memorial Opera House until February 5.  For more information and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Alexei Ratmansky

Yuri Possokhov

Ilya Demutsky

William Forsythe

Thom Willems



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites

Encylopaedia Britannica



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San Francisco Ballet celebrates ‘The Joy of Dance’

Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco in Tomasson’s ‘Haffner Symphony’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet opened its 2017 season in celebratory style this week, with a program entitled The Joy of Dance.  A triple bill, it features three diverse works – by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, by Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček and by New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck.

The program opener is Tomasson’s Haffner Symphony, written to mark the Mozart Centennial in 1991.  With an outdoor setting, against the backdrop of a colonnade of trees, it’s a sparkling, lively ballet in the classical style.  Appropriately, Helgi Tomasson selected Mozart’s Symphony No 35 for the score – a work which was commissioned in 1782 by a prominent Salzburg family, the Haffners, to celebrate a joyful occasion – the elevation to the nobility of Sigmund Haffner the Younger, a friend and contemporary of Mozart.

Dores André, Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh in Bubeníček’s ‘Fragile Vessels’ © Erik Tomasson


Dores André, Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh in Bubeníček’s ‘Fragile Vessels’ © Erik Tomasson

With Fragile Vessels, San Francisco Ballet celebrates not only a world premiere, but the first ballet created for the Company by Jiří Bubeníček. The choreographer is one half of a unique partnership with his twin brother Otto, which has certainly made its mark on the world of ballet and design. Both brothers initially joined Hamburg Ballet – where their careers evolved under the guidance of Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier – and both became acclaimed international guest soloists. They have since followed parallel artistic paths – Jiří as a choreographer and Otto as a designer, composer and artistic advisor – and their company, Les Ballets Bubeníček, has toured internationally with guest artists from companies such as the Mariinsky, the Paris Opera, the Hamburg and Berlin State ballets.

Fragile Vessels is set to Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto – a universally adored work, rich with choreographic potential – creatively exploited by Bubeníček, who brings a new vocabulary of possibilities to the pas de deux.  Neo-classical in style, the ballet follows the three movements of the concerto, each taking a different theme – love, separation and forgiveness – and played out against a spectacular set design, by Otto Bubeníček, reminiscent of the sails of an elegant barque.


San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s ‘In The Countenance Of Kings’ © Erik Tomasson


San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s ‘In The Countenance Of Kings’ © Erik Tomasson

This celebration of dance closes with In the Countenance of Kings, a work by Justin Peck – principal dancer and resident choreographer of New York City Ballet. Commissioned by San Francisco Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings had its world premiere during the Company’s 2016 season, and turned out to be a runaway success.  Obviously written with the strength and style of San Francisco Ballet in mind, this work proved to be a smart, stylish and fun combination of classic and contemporary dance – pacy and entertaining.

Dores André – who dances the role of Quantus – describes Peck’s ballet as “expressive and dynamic, with a sense of fullness, energy, optimism and freedom”, adding “It’s incredibly relevant.”  She says that the dancers are enjoying it even more than they did last year – “… there is less thinking, but instead more exploring and expanding the possibilities of the piece.”

High-octane and almost athletic, In the Countenance of Kings is set to a fabulous, jazzy, almost Broadway-style score by contemporary New York composer Sufjan Stevens – an exhilarating movement from his work entitled The BQE, which was written in 2007 to a commission from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and inspired by Interstate 278, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  And judging by their performance, conductor Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra are enjoying this work every bit as much as are the dancers!

San Francisco Ballet presents The Joy of Dance at the War Memorial Opera House, alternating with Program 2, until February 4.  For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website .


Helgi Tomasson

Les Ballets Bubeníček

Justin Peck

Sufjan Stevens 



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites


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Bringuier and Thibaudet guest with San Francisco Symphony

Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the San Francisco Symphony © Decca-Kasskara

The San Francisco Symphony hosts two widely acclaimed and very welcome French artists to Davies Symphony Hall this week – pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and conductor Lionel Bringuier, each in his own right a star turn – with a program of music by Kodály, Ravel and Beethoven.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is well known to San Francisco audiences, having appeared here on a number of occasions since his debut performance in 1994. He was also one of five international guest pianists to appear at Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas’ 70th birthday celebrations two years ago.

This week he plays Ravel’s gorgeously jazzy Piano Concerto in G major, written in 1928 as a result of the composer’s exposure to jazz during a visit to the United States, and during a time when the influence of jazz was prominent in Paris as well. “It’s hard to imagine this music emerging with more loving finesse and more exquisite detail”, wrote the Seattle Times, following Mr Thibaudet’s performance of the concerto with the Seattle Symphony.

His interpretation of the Gershwin Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony last year was described by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “Not just nearly perfect. It was perfect, the best I’ve experienced in 50 years”.

And the accolades keep coming. According to the South Florida Classical Review Mr Thibaudet played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra with “Elegance and restraint”, and following another performance with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of his “Great energy, brilliant technique and unassailable artistry”.

This season, Mr Thibaudet is Artist-in-Residence with l’Orchestre National de France, the Wiener Symphoniker and, for the third year, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he is able to indulge his passion for education, fostering young musical talent through individual lessons, masterclasses and performances with students.

Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony in a program of music by Kodály, Ravel and Beethoven – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

A cellist by training, Lionel Bringuier became Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2012 at the age of 26, following his frequent and highly praised appearances with some of the world’s finest orchestras. Among those with whom he has guested are the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia and Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras, as well as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the Israel Philharmonic.

Following his Tonhalle appointment, the Los Angeles Times referred to Maestro Bringuier as a music director “who has the capacity to excite and astonish, and who promises to put Zurich on the international orchestral map in a big way”.

The Financial Times described him as “A natural talent whose good instincts are bolstered by good taste plus a strong technique. And unlike those Wunderkinder, past and present, who value personal flash over artistic substance, he steps back and just lets the music show off”.

It was during Lionel Bringuier’s first season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich that the Creative Chair Initiative was established. The first to hold this Chair was conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, followed in the 2015/2016 season by German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann.

This past autumn Lionel Bringuier has undertaken a concert tour to South America with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, joined by violinist Lisa Batiashvili and pianist Nelson Freire, at some of the continent’s most celebrated venues. Other engagements this season include Mr Bringuier’s debut at  L’Opéra National de Paris, conducting a production of Bizet’s Carmen by Calixto Bieito, and in addition to his return appearance here in San Francisco, he will again conduct the Munich Philharmonic, NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Wiener Symphoniker.

This week’s San Francisco Symphony program opens with Zoltan Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. It was based on folk dances from the town and surroundings of Galánta, which at the time was what the composer described as “a small Hungarian market town known to travelers between Vienna and Budapest”, and which is now in Slovakia.

The closing work is Beethoven’s Symphony No 4, which is probably the least frequently performed of all of his symphonies, overshadowed almost by the Symphony No 3, Eroica, and the great Symphony No 5. In an article for Gramophone magazine, conductor Osmo Vänskä wrote: “Of all the nine symphonies, for me it is No 4 that is looking back a little bit to the earlier, Viennese, Classical style. It is more connected to the first two symphonies than to the Eroica”. According to All About Beethoven, “The freshness and spontaneity of the themes, the lack of tragic motives, the perfection of the form triggered the enthusiasm of his contemporaries ….. Mendelssohn Bartholdy chose it to be performed at his first concert at Gewandhaus in Leipzig”.

Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony, with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, at Davies Symphony Hall from January 26 to 28. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website



Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Lionel Bringuier

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Ravel Piano Concerto in G

Kodály – Dances of Galánta

Beethoven – Symphony No 4


All About Beethoven

Gramophone magazine


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SFJAZZ celebrates opening of 5th Anniversary Season


Zakir Hussain – © Moment Records

SFJAZZ is pulling out all stops this week as it launches its 5th Anniversary Season with a series of star-studded concerts.  The celebrations open with a Gala Concert honoring Zakir Hussain, followed by four concerts with the theme ‘traditions in transition’ – each curated by a different jazz celebrity, and each paying tribute to an artist with long-standing links to the Bay Area.

Performances and collaborations during the week feature the curating artists, as well as SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Directors Bill Frisell and Terence Blanchard, and names such as Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Cindy Blackman Santana, Mary Stallings, the Kronos Quartet, John Santos, John Handy, Eric Harland and the SFJAZZ Collective – Miguel Zenón, David Sánchez, Sean Jones, Robin Eubanks, Edward Simon, Warren Wolf, Matt Penman and Obed Calvaire.


The SFJAZZ Collective – © Jay Blakesberg

Tabla virtuoso, composer and percussionist Zakir Hussain has been described by Rhythm Music Monthly as the “Joyous genius of the Tabla ….. a prodigiously gifted artist in whom the streams of Indian and Global musics meet …. one of the greatest musicians of our time”.  According to SFJAZZ, he is “one of the world’s most esteemed and influential musicians and widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement”, and on Wednesday, January 18, in the presence of cultural and political leaders, celebrities, artists and music enthusiasts, this phenomenal musician will be presented with the SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award by Mickey Hart.

Following the cocktails, dinner and Gala Concert, featuring a host of stars, Snarky Puppy will headline an Afterjam, with special guest David Crosby, in the Miner Auditorium, while Red Baraat take the stage in the Joe Henderson Lab.

For more information, and details on the various ticket packages available, visit the SFJAZZ website.

SFJAZZ pays tribute to Tony Williams (1945-1997) on Thursday, January 19, in a performance curated by Cindy Blackman Santana, and honoring one of the most influential drummers of the 60s, whose Lifetime band is credited with having pioneered the fusion movement.  Having made a significant contribution to the Miles Davis Quintet, Tony Williams was described by Davis as “the center that the group’s sound revolves around”.  In 1990, Williams – a longtime Bay Area resident – premiered a work commissioned by SFJAZZ, which featured Herbie Hancock and the Kronos Quartet.

More information on Thursday’s concert can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

The Friday Spotlight falls on that giant among saxophonists, Joe Henderson (1937-2001), in a performance curated by Joshua Redman.  Henderson collaborated with a number of high profile artists, and is described by All Music as “A remarkable tenor saxophonist whose passionate ballad playing and often fiery solos made him one of the most influential tenors in jazz”.   A Bay Area resident for 30 years, Henderson enjoyed a long association with SFJAZZ, from his appearance at the third Jazz In The City Festival in 1986 to the 1993 tribute ‘We Love Joe’ at Davies Symphony Hall.

To find out more about this week’s tribute to Joe Henderson, visit the SFJAZZ website.


Bobby Hutcherson © Scott Chernis

Bobby Hutcherson (1941-2016) is the artist who’ll be honored in Saturday evening’s concert.  A vibraphonist and composer, he was a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, and was an important figure in the story of SFJAZZ from its beginnings.  This performance, curated by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, features highlights from Hutcherson’s legacy which includes over 40 classic albums, and his association with every major figure in the world of jazz from the 1960s to the present.

Details on this concert can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

The concert honoring alto saxophonist John Handy on Sunday, January 22, is curated by SFJAZZ Collective saxophonist Miguel Zenón.  A Bay Area resident for most of his life, Handy is what’s described as “a consummate musician” who is also a vocalist, and plays tenor and baritone saxophone, saxello, clarinet and oboe.  With a style which is described as “soulful and fiery”, he performed at the first Jazz in the City Festival in 1983 as well as the Grand Opening of the SFJAZZ Center.

More information on this tribute to John Handy can be found on the SFJAZZ website.


John Handy – courtesy SFJAZZ

When you’re at the JAZZ Center, cast your eyes across Franklin Street for the fabulous  installation by San Francisco photographer, Jim Marshall, in the windows of the building directly opposite.  Visit Jim Marshall’s website to see who’s featured in this remarkable and fascinating display.

For more information on this special week celebrating all that’s wonderful about jazz, visit www.sfjazz.org




Artists’ websites:

Zakir Hussain
Snarky Puppy
David Crosby
Red Baraat
Tony Williams 
Cindy Blackman Santana
Joe Henderson
Joshua Redman 
Bobby Hutcherson 
Stefon Harris 
John Handy
Miguel Zenón
All Music  

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony perform Mahler’s ‘Das klagende Lied’

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony  © San Francisco Symphony

It’s well known how dear to the heart of Michael Tilson Thomas is the work of Gustav Mahler, and this week MTT and the San Francisco Symphony delight in presenting to their audiences a program in which the main work is a semi-staged version of Mahler’s Das klagende Lied.

For this work, the San Francisco Symphony is joined by four internationally-renowned vocalists – soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael König and baritone Brian Mulligan – a cast of actors and dancers, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin).

Also on the program are Mahler’s symphonic movement Blumine (Bouquet of Flowers), written in 1884 as part of his incidental music for the stage work Der Trompeter von Säckingen, and an autobiographical work in poetry and music, the song cycle Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer).

One of Mahler’s earliest works, Das klagende Lied was originally written as a cantata, but in this presentation, MTT incorporates the skills of a creative team comprising Stage Director James Darrah and Projection Designer Adam Larsen, with scenic designs by Ellen Lenbergs, lighting by Pablo Santiago and costumes by Sarah Schuessler, to create the dark fairy tale kingdom in which the story unfolds.

According to San Francisco Symphony program annotator, the late Michael Steinberg, the title of this work isn’t easy to translate. The German word “klagen” can be translated as “lament” or “complain”. A derivative of this word, “anklagen” means “accuse”.

The story tells of two brothers who go into a forest in search of a particular red flower in order to win the hand of a beautiful, but proud queen. The sweet-natured younger brother is the first to find this flower, which he sticks in his hat, and then falls asleep. His jealous elder brother kills him while he’s asleep, steals the flower and goes on to claim his prize.

A wandering minstrel, walking through the same forest, then happens across a shining white bone, and carves it into a flute. As soon as he plays the instrument, it sings out the tale of the murder, which spurs the minstrel on to find the queen.

At her court, a feast is being held to celebrate the queen’s forthcoming wedding to the knight who murdered his brother.  When the minstrel arrives, he plays the flute, which again sings out its dark tale. The new king seizes the flute and puts it to his own lips, whereupon the flute makes a direct accusation of murder against him. At this point, the queen falls to the floor in a faint, the guests flee, and the castle walls collapse.

The origin of the story cannot be accurately determined, however it’s thought possible that it was derived from a combination of a fairy tale, The Singing Bone, written by the Brothers Grimm, a tale unearthed by nineteenth-century folklorist Ludwig Bechstein, and a contribution by Mahler himself. Whatever its origins, it would seem that in this context, “accuse” might be considered the most appropriate translation of “klagen”.

Michael Tilson Thomas says that his goal with this interpretation of Das klagende Lied “ is to take listeners through the beautiful intricacies of this work, using video, lighting, and other elements to ….. illuminate every facet of Mahler’s music” in the hope that “the audience will walk away having had a deeper, more inspiring experience than they might have had otherwise”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of works by Gustav Mahler at Davies Symphony Hall from January 13 to 15. For further information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.



San Francisco Symphony program notes by Michael Steinberg:

Das klagende Lied


Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen
Michael Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Ragnar Bohlin

Joélle Harvey

Sasha Cooke

Michael König

Brian Mulligan

James Darrah

Adam Larsen

Ellen Lenbergs

Pablo Santiago

Sarah Schuessler

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SFJAZZ hosts Chris Botti residency

Chris Botti performs ‘My Funny Valentine’ on the PBS LEGENDS OF JAZZ, Golden Horns, episode © PBS

Direct from his regular holiday season residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, Chris Botti arrives in San Francisco this week to take over the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ, with a repertoire which is as likely to include romantic and classical music as jazz and pop.

The world’s biggest selling jazz instrumentalist, Chris Botti spent his early years performing and recording with artists of the caliber of Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich and Joni Mitchell. During the 90s he played extensively with Paul Simon, and enjoyed a particularly fruitful collaboration with Sting, appearing on his Brand New Day tour. He describes those performances and those relationships as “powerful learning experiences”.

Since he started releasing albums in 1995, four of them have reached the No 1 spot on the Billboard jazz albums chart. His 2007 album, Italia – on which he partnered with tenor Andrea Bocelli for the title track was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2008, and his  2009 album, Live in Boston – recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra – received nominations in three categories at the 2010 GRAMMY Awards ceremony.  This one featured the fabulously talented trumpeter improvising with artists such as Yo Yo Ma, Sting, Steven Tyler, John Mayer and Josh Groban,

His 2012 album, Impressions, featured Botti with a range of artists such as Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock, Mark Knopfler, Caroline Campbell and tenor Andrea Bocelli, in a selection of crossover jazz, pop and classical pieces. Highlighting his love of melody, Impressions features works by Gershwin and Harold Arlen, as well as by classical composers Astor Piazzolla and Frédéric Chopin – his Prelude No 20 in C minor – Botti’s own version of which he was commissioned to perform in Warsaw in 2010, on the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  Impressions sold over 4 million copies and won a GRAMMY for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

Christ Botti has now established himself as one of the important and innovative figures of the contemporary music world, and all because, at the age of 12, he heard a recording of Miles Davis playing My Funny Valentine. This recording not only persuaded him to make a life time commitment to the trumpet, but also provided the direction for a musician described as “A subtle trumpeter with a sumptuous sound, fluent phrasing and sense of space”. (SFJAZZ)

Appearing with Chris Botti this week are Lee Pearson on drums, Richie Goods on bass, guitarist Ben Butler, pianist Taylor Eigsti, Ben Stivers on keys, Caroline Campbell on violin, and vocalists Sy Smith and Rafael Moras.

The Chris Botti residency takes place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ from January 10 to 15. For further information and tickets – which are selling out fast – visit the SFJAZZ website.


Chris Botti


‘On the Waterfront’ with the San Francisco Symphony

on-the-waterfront-posterPhotograph courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony, under guest conductor David Newman, continues its 2016-17 Film Series this week with a production which the American Film Institute declared to be “one of the greatest films of all time” – Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront.

Produced by Sam Spiegel, with a screenplay by Budd Schulber, On the Waterfront stars Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J Cob, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. It took 8 Oscars at the 1955 Academy Awards ceremony, including Brando’s for Best Actor, and Eva Marie Saint’s for Best Supporting Actress, whilst Cob, Malden and Steiger were all nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category. The original score, written by Leonard Bernstein, also received an Oscar nomination – for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. (See full list of Awards and Nominations below)

Dealing with issues of trade unionism, corruption and racketeering, On the Waterfront is based on the true story of a longshoreman who tried (and failed) to topple a corrupt union. In the film, Terry Malloy (played by Brando), succeeds, but Kazan injects plenty of realism into his production, using real longshoremen as extras, and shooting on location in and near the dock in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the longshoremen faced a daily struggle to earn a living and maintain some sort of dignity under the control of an unscrupulous labor union.

Terry Malloy (Brando) with brother Charley (Rod Steiger)

In a 1999 review, the late Roger Ebert wrote that although the story might not be as fresh today as it was when the film was released in 1954, “… the acting and the best dialogue passages have an impact that has not dimmed; it is still possible to feel the power of the film and of Brando and Kazan, who changed American movie acting forever”.

This credit for a revolutionary change in the style of acting in American movies was due to Brando’s having embraced the Stanislavsky method of acting – one of the most celebrated actors of his time to do so. The technique, developed by the Russian actor and producer Konstantin Stanislavsky, requires actors to put themselves in the place of the character they’re portraying, making their emotions, actions and reactions appear to be part of the real world, as opposed to an imaginary one. The 1954 New York Times review described Brando’s performance as “shatteringly poignant . . . beautiful and moving”.

On the Waterfront was the only original film score which Leonard Bernstein wrote, and even then he only reluctantly agreed to do so, having no working knowledge of film production. Described by Nathan Cone on Texas Public Radio as being “like Brando’s character …. a mixture of tenderness, violence, and nobility” – it takes its place among the greatest film scores of all time as No 22 on the American Film Institute’s list of top American film scores.

Conductor David Newman has film music fairly coursing through his veins. Regarded as one of today’s most accomplished creators of film music, he is a member of the Newman dynasty of film composers – the son of nine-time Oscar-winning composer Alfred Newman, nephew of Emil and Lionel Newman, elder brother of Thomas Newman, and cousin of Randy Newman.

He has scored over 100 films – including the award-winning animated film, Anastasia, for which he holds an Academy Award® nomination. He was the first composer to have his work, 1001 Nights, performed in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s FILMHARMONIC Series, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.  In addition to regular appearances leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, David Newman also conducts the annual movie night at the Hollywood Bowl, having recently made his eighth consecutive annual appearance.

In addition to appearing with some of the world’s leading orchestras – the Los Angeles, New York and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, the Boston and the Chicago symphonies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra – David Newman is an active composer for the concert hall, and devotes a considerable amount of his time to researching and restoring film music classics – for which he was elected President of the Film Music Society in 2007 – and he also serves on the Board of the pre-professional American Youth Symphony.

The San Francisco Symphony, with conductor David Newman, accompanies a screening of On the Waterfront at Davies Symphony Hall on January 7 and 8. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Full list of Awards and Nominations for On the Waterfront


Roger Ebert


Encyclopaedia Britannica

Konstantin Stanislavsky

Leonard Bernstein

Texas Public Radio review

David Newman


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Nice Opera presents Puccini’s ‘Tosca’


Title page of the first edition of the piano score to Puccini’s opera ‘Tosca’, published by G. Ricordi in 1899 – via Wikimedia Commons

Nice Opera heralds the new year with one of the world’s best loved operatic works – Giacomo Puccini’s tragic melodrama, Tosca.  A production by Marseille Opera, it stars Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva in the role of Floria Tosca, Asturian tenor Alejandro Roy as her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and Mexican baritone Carlos Almaguer sings Barone Scarpia, the unscrupulous general of the secret police.

Musical direction is by Italian maestro Renato Balsadonna who leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chorus of Nice Opera and the Nice Opera Children’s Chorus.  Production, décor and costumes are by Louis Désiré, with lighting by Patrick Méeüs.

Written in 1899, with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, Tosca was based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 play, La Tosca, which featured the actress Sarah Bernhard in the title role. Puccini’s opera premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900, and although it features some of the composer’s most beautiful and best known arias – Recondita armonia, Vissi d’arte and E lucevan le stelle – it was apparently not particularly well received by the critics. The audiences, however, loved it, and have continued to do so for over a century.

Svetla Vassileve sings ‘Vissi d’arte’ for Israeli Masada Opera Festival – credit Israeli Opera

The opera is set in Rome in 1800, when Napoleon’s invasion of Italy threatened the control of the City by the Kingdom of Naples, and tells how a great singer, a rebellious painter and a corrupt police chief become involved in a deadly battle involving love, betrayal, treachery, and tragedy.

Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, gives sanctuary to an escaped prisoner, Angelotti, and Scarpia tricks Tosca into leading his men to Cavaradossi’s house, where Angelotti is thought to be hiding. Scarpia’s men find only Cavaradossi, whom Scarpia subjects to torture in order to find the prisoner. When word arrives that Napoleon has scored a victory over the King of Naples, Cavaradossi makes his delight known, which enrages Scarpia, and he condemns Cavaradossi to death. Tosca begs Scarpia to spare her lover, in return for which Scarpia demands that Tosca give herself to him, but as he advances towards her, she kills him with a knife. She hurries to the castle of Sant’Angelo where Cavaradossi is being held, but arrives too late to prevent the firing squad from executing him. Scarpia’s men attempt to arrest Tosca for his murder, but she throws herself to her death from the battlements of the castle.

Although the story of Tosca is fictional, some of the locations in Rome in which the action is set do exist. The church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where Act I takes place, is a Baroque era basilica. The Farnese Palace – Scarpia’s headquarters – has been the French Embassy since 1874, and the castle of Sant’Angelo is a famous sightseeing spot in the City.


Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome – setting for the final act of ‘Tosca’ – credit Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons

Svetla Vassileva’s wide repertoire has taken her to some of the major opera houses of the world.  She has sung Liù in Turandot for the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vienna State and New Israeli opera companies, and Violetta in La traviata in Florence, Japan, at Covent Garden, Verona and in Liège.  She has also sung the role of Alice Ford in Falstaff in Bologna, the title rôle of Cendrillon at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Desdemona in Otello at the Rome Opera and at La Scala, Milan.  Among her performances of Nedda in I Pagliacci have been those at both the Ravenna Festival and at Covent Garden opposite Plácido Domingo, and she has also starred in a film of the opera opposite Roberto Alagna.

Alejandro Roy made his debut in Donizetti’s La fille du regiment at Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, and his vocal versatility has led to a wide repertoire which now includes performances in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il Turco in Italia, and La Sonnambula, as well as in L’elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor. He has also appeared in Lucrezia Borgia at the National Theatre in Warsaw, Macbeth at the Savonlinna Festival in Finland, Don Carlo at the Palace of Diocletian in Split, and in Bizet ‘s Carmen, and Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco and Nabucco at the at the Euskalduna Theatre in Bilbao. His recent performances include appearances in La Traviata at the Luciano Pavarotti Theatre in Modena, in Turandot at the San Carlo in Naples, and in Tosca at Torre del Lago and the Arena of Verona where he also appeared in La Bohème and in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Carmen.

Carlos Almaguer in Marseille Opera’s official trailer for ‘Tosca’

Carlos Almaguer has performed on some of the world’s greatest stages, including those of Carnegie Hall, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Vienna State Opera, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He has also appeared in most of the major opera houses in Italy and France, as well as in Beijing, Tel-Aviv and Mexico. In addition to the role of Scarpia – which he also sang in the original Opera Marseille production in 2015 – his wide range of roles includes Tonio in I Pagliacci, Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana, Enrico in Lucia de Lamermoor, Amonasro in Aida, and Don Carlo di Vargas in La Forza del Destino. He has sung the title roles in Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra, Nabucco and Macbeth, those of Il Conte di Luna in Il Trovatore, Miller in Luisa Miller, Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera, Ezio in Attila, Jago in Otello, Monforte in I Vespri Sicilliani and Carlo Gerard in Andrea Chénier.

Orchestral and operatic conductor Renato Balsadonna is acknowledged as the most highly regarded Chorus Director of his generation, having enjoyed a long working relationship with Sir Antionio Pappano, firstly as Chorus Director at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in 1997, followed by a 12-year tenure in the same role at The Royal Opera House, from 2004. Whilst at Covent Garden, he made his mark conducting main stage productions such as I due Foscari, The Minotaur and Nabucco. In 2016, Maestro Balsadonna decided to join the circuit of guest conductors of operas and orchestras as well as choruses, and he currently collaborates with organizations such as Oper Frankfurt am Main, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Teatro Verdi Trieste, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Nice Opera production of Puccini’s Tosca, sung in Italian with French surtitles, takes place from 18th to 24th January at l’Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur. For further information visit the Nice Opera website.

This article first appeared in the online magazine Riviera Buzz.


Nice Opera

Marseille Opera

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Comment on Tosca
Artists’ websites:

Svetla Vassileva

Alejandro Roy

Carlos Almaguer

Renato Balsadonna

Louis Désiré

Patrick Méeüs

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